Monday, February 16, 2009

Project Based Learning

It seems so logical, so obvious, so practical. Project Based Learning. It's not new; it draws on theories that have been around for a very long time. Yet, we still revert back to the traditional 19th and 20th Century assessment tools.

Why is it that we unjustly assess our students on "high stakes" tests by standardizing our students when we know how diverse and individual and non-standardized they are?

It amazes me how we can teach people how to do something in a way that totally negates the approach being taught. For example, I don't know how many undergraduate and graduate course and even workshops I have attended that teach various approaches to meet the various learning styles and needs of our students, yet they use the traditional structure of lecture to do so. It drives me crazy.

Some day, perhaps, all of us will be able to embrace the individual needs of our students and assess them on the qualities that matter. And what better way than through project based learning opportunities.

Today I was in the doctor's office, and he spoke of his experience in the "hippie" medical program. Though the program was just an experiment at the time, it eliminated the objective tests and focused on the process of learning through project based learning. Teachers facilitated while the students directed their own learning through an inquiry-based model. True this is not for all learners, but what it does is foster the development of life-long learners and investigators--Isn't that what we want our doctors to be? Give me a doctor that keeps up on current research and practice over a doctor that graduated top of his class in his objective-test based medical program.

How does this equate to our students? Look at our drop-out rate nationally: According to the National Center for Education Statistics the dropout rate in 2006 was 9.3% (that's down since the 14.6% 1972--that surprised me). What happened in education that may account for this 5% decrease? Perhaps those of you that taught through it may be able to explain. I am wondering when project based learning began to really root itself in education. The Buck Institute says it has been around for 100 years.

In the Buck Institute for Education's Handbook: Introduction to Project Based Learning, outstanding projects do the following:

Recognize students' inherent drive to learn, their capability to do important work, and their need to be taken seriously by putting them at the center of the learning process.

  • Engage students in the central concepts and principles of a discipline. The project work is central rather than peripheral to the curriculum.
  • Highlight provocative issues or questions that lead students to in-depth exploration of authentic and important topics.
  • Require the use of essential tools and skills, including technology, for learning, self-management, and project management.
  • Specify products that solve problems, explain dilemmas, or present information generated through investigation, research, or reasoning.
  • Include multiple products that permit frequent feedback and consistent opportunities for students to learn from experience.
  • Use performance-based assessments that communicate high expectations, present rigorous challenges, and require a range of skills and knowledge.
  • Encourage collaboration in some form, either through small groups, student-led presentations, or whole-class evaluations of project results.

Project Based Learning prevails in schools that have adopted the Middle School Philosophy. Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age is a book that sparked my interest as I begin to explore the potentials of the project base learning that I currently employ in my classroom. I am really interested in working with teachers collaboratively across boarders. I have a contact in Pakistan that may be interested.

There are a lot of great models out there, and there are a lot of inspiring individuals like Bill Strickland that encourage us to try the best approaches to educating our society's youth.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.